Who Killed Benazir Bhutto?

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A day after Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was killed in a gun and suicide bomb attack, there is much speculation about who was behind the assassination. Many people and organizations in Pakistan wanted Bhutto dead. There are doubts that the perpetrators will ever be identified.

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

In Pakistan, the government says there are signs that al-Qaida is responsible for the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. There's also been an unofficial claim of responsibility on an Italian Web site. Many people and organizations wanted Bhutto dead.

And as NPR's Jackie Northam reports, it may be impossible to prove who is responsible.

JACKIE NORTHAM: Over the course of her political life, Benazir Bhutto made many enemies. And they had many motives for trying to eliminate her. There are those in the Islamic state of Pakistan who did not want a woman heading the government, says Michael Scheuer, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation and a former senior CIA officer. And he points to others who wished her harm.

Mr. MICHAEL SCHEUER (Senior Fellow, Jamestown Foundation; Former CIA Officer): For the Islamists, anything that smacked above Western secular democracy is bad. And Mrs. Bhutto was very outspoken in saying that there should be complete separation between church and state in Pakistan, which is probably unpopular with the great bulk of Pakistanis really. There are people within the military and within the intelligence services who reciprocate the hatred she had toward them.

NORTHAM: Many people in Pakistan remember how corrupt her administration was during both her terms as prime minister. Also there was real anger over her pro-American stance. And she was an outspoken critic of al-Qaida and other extremist groups, and vowed to run them out of Pakistan. Bruce Riedel is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former director for South Asia on the National Security Council.

Mr. BRUCE RIEDEL (Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution: Former Director for South Asia, National Security Council): I think the most likely culprit here is the al-Qaida organization, which has been trying to kill her for the better part of the last decade.

NORTHAM: But Anthony Cordesman with the Center for Strategic and International Studies doubts the pure core al-Qaida, the group that carried out 9/11, is responsible. Instead, Cordesman says, it's likely the Taliban movement of Pakistan, which is a different group than the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.

Dr. ANTHONY CORDESMAN (Security Analyst, Center for Strategic and International Studies): It's nominally a movement under a leader called Baitullah Mehsud, who have build up into a major organization in the northwest and along the southern border of Afghanistan, who steadily increased their capabilities in terms of arms, cadres, and the ability to exercise intimidation and terrorism in the area.

NORTHAM: Barnett Rubin, an expert on South Asia at New York University says the Taliban movement of Pakistan has launched an offensive, which includes a long string of suicide bombings often near military installations in Pakistan. Rubin says Bhutto's death is part of that offensive.

Mr. BARNETT RUBIN (South Asia Expert, New York University): These are not isolated incidents by unknown characters. They're part of a political strategy by Pakistani Taliban backed by al-Qaida in order to assure that there is no regime change in Pakistan that is against their interest.

NORTHAM: But there was a nexus of other homegrown groups that could have had the same drive to eliminate Bhutto, groups that sprang from Pakistan's dispute with India over Kashmir. Bhutto cut funding to many of those groups during her time in office. Pakistan security and intelligence services were linked to those groups, which by extension make some people believe the Pakistani government had something to do with Bhutto's death. Michael Scheuer says someone in the intelligence or security service could have had a fatal grudge against Bhutto.

Mr. SCHEUER: Could there be a rogue element within it? Absolutely. It could be a rogue element in the military, in the judiciary, anywhere. But the idea that this was an institutional attack on Mrs. Bhutto, I think, probably is not going to be born out by whatever facts emerge.

NORTHAM: That's if the facts emerge. Many analysts believe those responsible for Bhutto's death will never be held accountable. Pakistan has turned down offers for investigative help from the international community in earlier suicide bombings, including the attack on Bhutto's convoy in October which killed 140 people. And it's likely to turn down all offers again.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

SIEGEL: Benazir Bhutto's assassination is fueling fears that next month's elections in Pakistan could be put off. It's unclear how Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party will proceed. Another opposition candidate, Nawaz Sharif, has called for a boycott of the vote.

For its part, the Bush administration wants the election to go forward. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addressed the issue today while she was signing a condolence book at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington.

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. Department of State): The way to honor her memory is to continue the democratic process in Pakistan, so that the democracy that she so hoped for can emerge.

Unidentified Man: Should the elections continue on January eight?

Sec. RICE: We are in contact with the people in Pakistan, all of the parties. But obviously, it's just very important that the democratic process go forward. Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Condoleezza Rice speaking today at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington.

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